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Civil-rights activist set example fighting for change

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Nancy Brand was given a tough choice as a civil-rights activist fighting in the Mississippi Delta for the right to vote in the early 1960s: Vote or feed your children.

During the struggle by Mrs. Brand and other poor blacks fighting for the right to vote, some Mississippi government officials withheld free aid from them because of their involvement in the movement.

After a firebombing at the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee office in Greenwood, Mississippi, where Mrs. Brand worked as the secretary of the organization, she fled north with eight of her nine children on a Greyhound bus in March 1963 with the help of Mississippi civil rights leaders like Medgar Evers, U.S. Marshals and the U.S. Justice Department amid threats on her life by segregationists for taking part in organizing for voting rights.

Her story was among those featured in a Jet Magazine article that year.

Mrs. Brand, a Detroit resident and the mother of Detroit News staff writer Oralandar Brand-Williams, died Wednesday, April 12, 2017, following a bout with pneumonia. She was 93.

“She wanted change,” said daughter Marie McCrary.” She saw so much go on in Mississippi (racially) and she said ‘I want to change it.’ (She’s) been fighting all of her life.”

McCrary said most importantly, her mother set a good example for her children.

Once in Detroit, Mrs. Brand continued working as an activist, joining others like Rosa Parks in fighting discrimination in employment and housing in Metro Detroit, her family said. She joined the local chapters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP. She was a member of the West Side Mothers welfare rights organization in Detroit. She also was a member of Trade Union Leadership Council.

In addition to her work as an activist, Mrs. Brand was a den mother for a Boys Scouts troop on Detroit”s west side. She later taught English as a second language to students in southwest Detroit who immigrated from the Middle East.

Born in Philip, Mississippi, Mrs. Brand was raised in Greenwood and graduated from the historic Saints Industrial and Literary School. She was a Sunday school teacher at St. Luke Church of God and Christ. She also was a member of True Vine Church of God in Christ and later St. Cecilia Catholic Church, both in Detroit.

A voracious reader, Mrs. Brand’s other hobbies included fishing, cooking and discussing politics. Known for her sharp wit, Mrs. Brand’s family and friends enjoyed her countless one-liners, some of which she delivered in her final days.

Other survivors include daughters Betty Rowe, Helen Hendrix and Willa Brand; sons Melvin West, James and Bobby; sisters Martha Williams, Sally Banks, Evelyn Dukes and Carrie Brown; a brother, Guy Rupert; 23 grandchildren; 47 great-grandchildren; and five great-great grandchildren.

A daughter, Yvonne Black, a son, Eugene West Jr., and former husbands Eugene West and Willie Brand preceded her in death.

Visitation will be 4-6 p.m. Thursday at James H. Cole funeral home, 2624 West Grand Blvd, in Detroit. A memorial service will be 11 a.m. Friday at St. Charles Lwanga Catholic Church - St. Leo site, 4860 15th Street at West Grand River in Detroit. Father Theodore Parker will officiate.

Burial will be in Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery in Clinton Township.